Interview by Sarah Shumick
When Christina Vera-Reid and Maylin Sambois-Sanchez started the journey that led to the founding of Femergy, it was with the simple idea of connecting women and providing them with added support. This “mustard seed” of an idea has transformed lives across the community, state and beyond. Femergy’s mission is to provide holistic programs and products that enhance teen girls and women in the areas of Education, Leadership, Health, & Wellness. Christina has plenty of experience to inspire her in her efforts, and even on the bad days, she remembers to keep her focus on women and girls everywhere.
Give us a short overview of Femergy In 2011, Maylin and I started with a mustard seed idea of wanting to find a simplified process for sharing community resources to women. We wanted to create opportunities for women to connect and create an additional layer of daily support. It was during those meet-ups that we identified many similarities among participants. They openly shared much about their childhood struggles, regrets and/or challenges they were facing with their daughters. Often, the consensus was, “We all had wished we would have had more support and enrichment-based opportunities/access as girls.” It was passion and faith that led us in 2014 when we officially launched Femergy (Female Energy). Since Femergy’s inception, we’ve gone on to create exploratory programs and events that serve girls and women in the state of Ohio and surrounding areas.
Tell us what’s innovative about your organization or how you are innovating in the nonprofit space: Femergy has an intentional focus on identifying career fields that have a shortage of women representation, and we host career clinics and leadership camps with a sports exploration focus in efforts to ignite interest amongst middle and high school girls. In addition, we have taken leadership development for women and created holistic strategies on how women can create and maintain economic self-sufficiency while living a healthier and more balanced lifestyle. Having the ability to create programs based on participant feedback has been such a unique and fufilling experience. We are free to create programs and experiences and provide strategies for present-day girls and women.
How is your organization making an impact in Columbus? Through amazing partnerships with partners like the Ohio State University, The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Otterbein University, Dominican Sisters of Peace, Y2Y, Columbus City Schools etc. Femergy has gone on to serve thousands of girls and women in the past five years. We have had high school participants who have graduated and come back to serve Femergy in leadership capacities. Our program curricula continue to attract attention from institutions that serve youth, which led us to the decision of launching our “train the trainer” model to help expand our reach in 2019-2020. By creating programs for women and girls by women and girls it has allowed us to provide effective and engaging 21st Century programming.
What makes your organization thrive? Femergy continues to Thrive because of our program participants, volunteers, and donors. Without them none of what we do would be possible!
As a leader, how do you come up with innovative ideas, and what helps put those ideas into action? If you truly listen to what people need and try and put yourself in their shoes, creating ideas and programs comes naturally. We always create events and make program improvements based on the feedback from our target population (middle & high school girls and women). Having an active board/committee followed by enthusiastic and committed volunteers really can stem putting those ideas into action!
Give us a snapshot of your career path—what is your background, and what led you to work in the nonprofit sector? I worked in proprietary education as an admissions advisor. Meeting so many people that was turning to college as a quick fix to the challenges they were facing left me often wanting to do more then what my supervisor at the time allowed me to do. So I found myself starting to question if my career choice at the time was in alignment with my ethics. I took a leap of faith and huge pay cut and decided to go and work for a non-profit that was providing after school tutoring and support for Columbus City Schools. It was in my second year in that position that I knew the non-profit world was for me. I never thought I would go off and start a nonprofit and write grants and curriculum plans, etc., but that feeling of serving and helping others was a feeling that was so powerful I just couldn’t ignore what God was showing me.
What is the one thing you are most passionate about? Picking one thing is too hard so I won’t. Outside of serving girls and women and fighting for equal pay, and more women in leadership roles etc., just knowing all of this hard work can’t and won’t stop with just me. Teaching my children and others around me on how to get involved and why it is necessary for them to get involved keeps me very driven.
Who inspires you? I have to split this answer. My mother inspires me for all of her resilience over the years. Coming from nothing and working so hard to show us what it meant to earn things and make a way. I would also have to say, my father. Unfortunately he wasn’t an active part of my life, however, his absence strengthened me early on and those experiences have given me the ability to really connect with some of the young girls I serve.
How do you stay motivated? What drives you to take things to the next level? Seeing all of the injustice in our world against girls and women. The mere fact that we only have 24 CEOs of fortune 500 companies that are women and only one of those CEOs is a woman of color is evidence enough that more needs to be done. So, on days that I’m dragging or questioning myself I have to dig deep and say this is not about you, this is about girls and women everywhere.
What struggles or adversities have you had to overcome to get to where you are today? Growing up Latina in a single-parent home, we struggled to have daily essentials. My mother worked two and three jobs trying to provide for my siblings and I, but we often found ourselves living in areas that were also faced with economic challenges. Some months we didn’t have heat and would use the kitchen stove to warm the lower level of the house. We utilized government assistance programs to eat but when that ran out, we would find ourselves eating with relatives. I honestly didn’t know we were poor until about 6th grade when kids were wearing name brand clothing to school and would bully me for not having the same items. Christmas was always hard on my mom, and after I hit 7th grade I removed myself from receiving gifts so that she could do what she could for the other three. It was rough but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Coming from that, which is a walk in the park compared to what my mother and father went through, gave me the hunger and push I needed to break that generational cycle of poverty. It’s also why I am so passionate about equal pay and economic self-sufficiency.
Why do you think people should care about innovative nonprofits? NonProfits are the ones hitting the ground every day. Putting our all into making the community, our nation, our world a better place for everyone. I often think if my parents could have encountered organizations like Femergy and all of the other amazing organizations that are being featured, where would they be, where would you or your families be? We all have to do our part and most nonprofit organizations are truly making a difference but the work is so much more challenging without the support of others.
As a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be in the military, so I was pretty confident I would end up in the Airforce or Army.
What might others be surprised to know about you? I love to play and watch basketball!!!
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? Pulse is the connector, it’s where passion meets change.